When those incredible engineers and artisans built the dam that created Lake Vyrnwy what we now regard as everyday technology had not even been dreamed of. Back then phones were limited to the very few, cameras were for specialists, moving pictures and computers were still to be invented, but they have all been involved with our volunteers over the past couple of weeks.

Bethan has spent two weeks at Lake Vyrnwy volunteering with the Conservation team. I think it is fair to say that the weather was the greatest challenge she faced but she still got to use cameras and her smart phone and write a blog contribution on her laptop:

In true British fashion I couldn’t very well write a blog post without mentioning the weather so I thought I’d get it out of the way at the beginning- set the scene as it were. Of course, in the last two weeks of January I was hardly expecting blue skies, sunshine and baking heat but I was optimistic I wouldn’t get the complete opposite (maybe a few crisp bright mornings if I was lucky?). How wrong I was, we’re talking heavy snow, gales, a whole lot of rain and temperatures down to -8 degrees Celsius. Now hailing from Scotland, I thought I had dressing for cold weather down to tee but being out and about all day at Lake Vyrnwy taught me otherwise. What I bring away from this is that one can never have too many layers. Think you’ve got enough fleeces on under your thick jacket? Throw another one on. Think one pair of trousers in enough? Don’t be silly, go grab some thermal leggings and waterproof trousers for good measure. Don’t even get me started on socks.

Snow over Lake Vyrnwy by Bethan McGregor

Now, maybe I am being unfair, of the 2 weeks I was at Lake Vrynwy there were one or two truly beautiful days. Seizing our chance one of these days up we drove to the higher moorlands of the reserve to set a number of camera traps to assess possible Merlin nesting sites. In the process we encountered wonderful views of the reserve and distant Aran ridge – think blue sky, wispy clouds and an icing sugar-like dusting of snow on the higher ground. Alas the cold weather meant my phone feebly tapped out before I could get any photos so you’ll have to take my word for it. As the reserve approaches survey season I can imagine being based up on the moors on a day like that one to be a particularly stunning way of appreciating the landscape surrounding Lake Vyrnwy and if you’re lucky spotting Merlins and Hen harriers soaring above.

Snow over Lake Vyrnwy by Bethan McGregor

Whilst heavy snow may not be the preferred weather for typical wildlife watching (unless you want to lose a few toes to frostbite in the process) it offers a number of benefits. Fresh snow is an excellent canvas for animal tracks. One afternoon after a bout of heavy snowfall we headed out for a drive around the lake. The slushy roads where the gritter had been soon gave way to fresh, untouched avenues giving us an insight into how the wildlife around the lake had been enjoying the snow.  One particularly energetic fox appeared to have ventured out for a morning jog, it’s meandering trail running for miles along the lakeside road interspersed with what appeared to be occasional scuffles with pheasants. A second (kind of) advantage in the snow is that it limits food supplies so more birds venture to the feeders. I particularly enjoyed watching a flock of pretty little Bramblings, the snow making their orange breast stand out even more.

Now sadly I have neither the skills or equipment to present you with any impressive wildlife photos- only so much is possible with a temperamental iphone 5 and a shaky hand. Luckily however the lake and surrounding reserve looked so idyllic in the snow that a simple point and shoot approach conjured up some passable shots of the scenery at least.

Thank you Bethan and well done for surviving the cold and snow. I’m not sure how many people got to watch Bramblings as part of the Big Garden BirdWatch, but we did have some special visitors at Lake Vyrnwy who might have seen some.

Cefn Gwlad filming

Jan our Education and Learning officer has been busy visiting schools to help them with BGBW. But the highlight for her recently was when she and volunteer Liz hosted a visit to Lake Vyrnwy for children from Llanfyllin Primary School to filming with Cefn Gwlad team from S4C Television. The children demonstrated how good they are at bird counting. Jan is convinced they will all become little stars of the future. They were a pleasure to have on the reserve and so enthusiastic about the nature around them. Can’t wait to see it on the small screen – although we believe that a whole day of filming will be edited into just 5 minutes of fame on live TV.

Starling by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

I did my BGBW at home with lots of typical garden birds such as Blackbirds, Sparrows, Great Tits, Robins, Blue Tits, Chaffinch and Goldfinch plus some slightly more unusual ones like Nuthatch, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and Siskin. We were also treated to an aerial display by a flock of Starlings in the fields behind our garden. Not quite a murmuration but still great to see. Even better when we were passing a farm nearby to see the barn rooves change colour to black as maybe 1,000 starlings settled. Awesome.

So that covers technology like smartphones, cameras and moving pictures – what about computers and cardboard. Claire volunteered with our Retail team in the shop at Lake Vyrnwy and had to get to grips with our PC based till and more:

When I signed up as a volunteer at the RSPB Lake Vyrnwy shop last November, I didn’t know what to expect.  My most recent experience of retail work was as a store assistant at Aldi: how would this compare? (Note that the RSPB has had a partnership with Aldi for a number of years).

It’s fair to say that a shift here at Vyrnwy is rather less pressured, although there is plenty to do!  Cynthia, who’s been volunteering in the shop for many years, has patiently inducted me into the wonderful world of the RSPB till system, the rolling stock-take (not as bizarre as it sounds) and the quirks of the labelling machine.  There’s an amazing array of products squeezed into our small shop and one of the biggest challenges is finding all the hidey holes where back-up stock is stored!

We are avid recyclers of cardboard; however, rather than flinging it into a baler (one of the best bits of the job at Aldi), we carefully remove any staples and sticky tape before the flattened boxes are taken to our Organic farm to be shredded and mixed with straw to make bedding for cows and sheep.   

One of the best things about volunteering here is that everyone is encouraged to make use of the different talents that they bring.  Cynthia uses her artistic flair to create wonderful displays so, despite having only a tiny floor area, our shop always looks enticing.  My creative skills are limited but I’m ruthless in the pursuit of a clean carpet at the start of the day and enjoy chatting to customers about birds and wildlife: certainly wasn’t able to do that at Aldi!

I did a bit of research, cardboard was first invented in China in the 15th century and started commercial production in the UK in 1817 - so not the latest technology but given all the problems with recycling plastics perhaps cardboard will make something of a resurgence.

New signs in the Coed y Capel Hide

This is the time of year when we check and maintain nest boxes and the three hides around the reserve – Coed Capel, Lakeside and Centenary. As well as inspecting the hides to determine any maintenance required, this year we have put up new bilingual signs and new whiteboards to record recent sightings.  I spent a while in the Centenary hide easing some of the windows using traditional tools like chisels and a block plane. The windows inevitably stick a little as the damp swells the wooden frames. This was actually brought to our attention by a visitor in their feedback form – feedback forms are provided in all the hides and we do value and act on the feedback we receive to improve visitor experience.

So cameras, computers, cardboard and capenters’ tools and a big thank you to Bethan, Jan, Liz, the team from Cefn Gwlad, the children from Llanfyllin Primary School and Claire. Why not put on some extra layers and come and see what they have seen and enjoyed with nature at Lake Vyrnwy.

John Davies, Tagmon/Volunteer Handyman

Previous Blog: Purple Review